Barely half a day after a crushing election performance, the announcement of a new case of Covid-19 community transmission on Sunday dispelled any fleeting thoughts of an easy ride for Jacinda Ardern’s Government.
Ardern’s Labour is now overwhelmingly politically dominant, largely based on the extraordinary relationship of trust with the election following its handling of the first Covid outbreak.
Like an empire that reaches far into new territory, Labour will find it has new borders to defend – as well as a barbarian horde of new untested MPs of its own.
The resurgence of the Māori Party and the upset win of Rawiri Waititi in Waiariki led to Labour’s only lost seat of the night. Ardern remains vulnerable on Māori issues with a Kaupapa Māori party back in the capital.
The Greens, far from having support cannibalised by Labour, increased their vote share – an extraordinary result for a left-wing party facing a Labour surge and for a minor party after three years in government. Chloe Swarbrick took the marquee seat of Auckland Central. Labour will face public pressure to give effect to more “transformational” policy.
Labour may offer to bring both the Greens and Waititi into the fold: in part to neutralise these threats, but also because as the focus shifts back from Ardern the crisis leader to business-as-usual, the Prime Minister will need boots on the ground.
Ardern can ill afford to lose James Shaw, Julie-Anne Genter and talent like Chloe Swarbrick from her pool of potential ministers.
Giving Greens co-leader Marama Davidson charge of Oranga Tamariki reform would be a huge milestone for the Greens and leave the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction (Ardern) helpfully at arm’s length from an often no-win portfolio.
The new Covid case was also a reminder that the decimated opposition cannot spend too much time licking its wounds.
While it’s hard to recall among the nightmare montage of National’s past six months, its MPs held the Government to account in the handling of Covid at key times.
Ironically, for the most resounding political victory of a lifetime, every party heads back to Wellington with an important part to play.
• Ben Thomas is a PR consultant and former National government press secretary.
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